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The monk class feature Unarmored Movement says:

At 9th level, you gain the ability to move along vertical surfaces and across liquids on your turn without falling during the move.

I am looking for an answer based in the rules as written, although interpretations and opinions are welcome.

I assert the rules support a notion of turns as meta-constructs useful for examining the game world at intervals, as opposed to a game world law of nature. As an example, if a character jumps and "runs out" of jump at the end of their turn while still jumping, I view the character as ending their round in mid-air, and that the jump gets continued on the character's next turn. I don't actually have rules citations to support my assertion, unfortunately.

This is important because I think it affects how far the monk can move along vertical or liquid surfaces. I don't know how, though.

As an example, let's assume a monk with 30' movement is 10' away from a 30' wide body of water. The monk moves 10' on land and then 20' on water and then the monk's turn is over. Does the monk fall in the water?

A slightly different example. Let's assume the monk has 30' of movement and is at the edge of a 1000' wide body of water. How far can the monk move before falling in?

One answer might be the monk can move its movement, then it is no longer able to stay above the water and gets dunked. If this is the case, can the monk get back up on the water and keep moving?

One perhaps unintuitive answer is that there is actually no limit on how far the monk can move without falling, which means the monk could move across liquid until the monk needs to stop for some reason, say exhaustion, then they fall in.

Not to be absurd, but in this case, I think the monk could "ice" skate on the water, and do swirls and tricks and stuff. Okay, yes, that's actually absurd.

To summarize: how far can a 9th level monk move along a vertical surfaces and across liquids without falling?

1) to the end of the monk's turn, then the monk needs to be on solid ground or fall

2) the monk's movement distance, even if that leaves the monk suspended on the vertical surface or the liquid between turns

3) as far as the monk wants, as long as the monk keeps moving

4) something else

Thanks

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The monk must end its movement for each turn on solid ground or fall.

Unarmored Movement, PHB p. 78, emphasis mine:

At 9th level, you gain the ability to move along vertical surfaces and across liquids on your turn without falling during the move.

The monk doesn't fall during the move when moving this way. A character's move doesn't span turns; it's something they do during their turn. Thus, at the end of the monk's turn, their move ends, and if they aren't standing on something solid, they fall.

Also note the "on your turn" condition. A monk can't run over liquids or up walls when moving as part of a reaction during another creature's turn.

To address the examples in the question:

As an example, let's assume a monk with 30' movement is 10' away from a 30' wide body of water. The monk moves 10' on land and then 20' on water and then the monk's turn is over. Does the monk fall in the water?

Yes. Their move is over, so their Unarmored Movement ability isn't preventing them from falling. Also note that a 9th level human monk will have a speed of 45 feet.

A slightly different example. Let's assume the monk has 30' of movement and is at the edge of a 1000' wide body of water. How far can the monk move before falling in?

90 feet. The monk can spend one ki point and use Step of the Wind to take Dash as a bonus action, then take Dash again as their action for the turn, so they may move 90 feet in total that turn. Again, note that typically a 9th level monk would be able to move (3 x 45) = 135 feet.

One answer might be the monk can move its movement, then it is no longer able to stay above the water and gets dunked. If this is the case, can the monk get back up on the water and keep moving?

That's up to the DM. They might require some or all of:

  • a Strength (Athletics) check to tread water as soon as their move ends
  • a Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to get enough of their body out of the water to resume moving on top of the water on their next turn.
  • using movement equal to half their speed to "stand up" from their "prone" position in the water.

To summarize: how far can a 9th level monk move along a vertical surfaces and across liquids without falling?

As far as they can move during their turn.

How the rules handle continuous movement

The rules actually don't specify how to handle continuous movement that extends beyond a character's turn. Very long falls should take more than a turn to complete, and a character who starts a jump at the end of their turn's movement presumably doesn't lose all momentum and stop moving.

So it's up to the DM; for jumping movement, they might rule that

  • characters can only jump if they have enough movement left on their turn to finish the jump, or
  • characters who end a turn in 'mid-jump' must finish the jump at the start of their next turn, and (maybe) can't take reactions until then.

Likewise for monks, the DM may rule that they can 'carry over' unused 'wall running' movement from turn to turn.

Of course, because of other aspects of the 5th Edition turn system, which allows characters to act, move, and be moved in between their turns, these options can introduce many other areas where the DM would need to make rulings. If a monk ends their turn walking on water, and they are moved by an effect such as thunderwave, are they still walking on water? Does the amount they were moved deduct from the distance they can move across water on their next turn? And so on.

My reading of the intent of the monk's Unarmed Movement feature is that it limits the distance a monk can travel up a vertical surface (or over liquid) without an intervening solid, horizontal surface. The easiest way to do that is to confine these intervals to the movement on the monk's turn.

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2  
Yeah, I understand your logic, but that leads to a herky-jerky kind of chessboard-like movement where at the end of 6 seconds everyone has to be on-base, to seriously mix metaphors. If a character can jump 15', but only has 5' of movement left, I don't think they jump those 5' and then fall to the ground. Instead, I think they end their turn in mid-air, and the next turn, they begin it in mid-air. Each turn is a freeze-frame of motion. Similarly, a monk who has used up all but 5' of movement, then starts moving across liquid, shouldn't then fall into the liquid because their turn is up. – Jack Feb 28 at 19:18
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@Jack you asked for a RAW answer and this is it. If you don't want to play RAW, that's fine but it's disingenuous to ask for RAW and complain because you don't like the answer. – Dale M Feb 28 at 20:06
1  
Well, you specifically asked for an answer in the rules as written. I agree that one of the consequences of those rules is that some cases of continuous activity aren't handled cleanly. I've added more to my answer to cover some of these issues. – Mark Cogan Feb 28 at 20:17
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@Mark Cogan - thank you for your detailed and diligent answer. You make some very good points about the rules and continuous movement. It could be that this is one of the many areas where even within RAW there is a wide range of interpretation. I think I don't agree with your interpretation of the sentence describing the monk's unarmored movement though. Just because it says you don't fall during the turn doesn't mean you do fall when the turn is over. Thanks again for your answer, though. – Jack Feb 28 at 21:45
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@jack If your interpretation is correct, then why are the words "on your turn" and "during the move" (bolded in my answer) in the feature description? Why doesn't it just say "move along vertical surfaces and across liquids"? I mean, offhand I don't think it's a big deal if the DM wants monks to have that ability, but, again keeping RAW in mind, I don't think it's what the feature describes. – Mark Cogan Feb 28 at 22:05

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